Tom Lockett—Two Months To Freedom


Sergeant Tom Lockett, posing while an ammunitions instructor for his parachute regiment

I heard this week from Robert Maddocks, the chairman of the Penkridge (Staffordshire, England) local history group. He explained that he was contacting me on behalf of Josie Shemwell, daughter of Frederick Thomas Lockett, a sergeant with the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment.

Tom Lockett was captured in North Africa on December 2, 1942 and he escaped from P.G. 59 in September 1943.

Tom’s repatriation record is given on “Detailed Accounts of 14 British Escapees.” After escaping, Tom was sheltered and fed by the family of farmer Francesco Vallorani of Montefalcone, Italy from September 20 to November 14.

Bob Maddock explained that before he met Josie Shemwell, he had written a short article about Tom Lockett that he included in his book Penkridge: 1930 to 1970, The Day Before Yesterday (2002).

Here is the article:

Although the North African campaign had ended in victory one of its main participants was not around to see it. Thomas Lockett was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Lockett of Teddesley Road. He was married to a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H. Webb of Woodbank and worked for Mr. Plant of Central Supply Stores before the war. He joined the Territorial Army before the war and was called up in September 1939. He served at first in the infantry but then volunteered for the paratroops. In October 1942 he had been sent to North Africa and was captured by the Germans on December 2nd the same year, He told a reporter that,

“We were working behind the German lines and the unit was badly smashed up. In trying to get back to our lines I was wounded three times by mortar shrapnel, and could not move. We had fought against German paratroops for five days, and when we were captured they patted us on the back and congratulated us on our fighting.”

Sergeant Lockett was sent to the German headquarters at Tunis, and then handed over to the Italians. After spending a month in a Sicilian prisoner of war camp he was transferred to a camp near Naples and then to one in North Italy. He remained in Italian hands for almost a year. When he heard about the Allied armistice with Italy he decided to escape. When he returned to Penkridge in December, 1943 the Cannock Advertiser told of his exciting adventures.

“I and a pal of mine whose home is in the Isle of Wight made our escape only a few minutes before the German troops took over. The Italians had told us that we must remain in the camp until the arrival of the Allies and they fired at us when we escaped.”

He and his friend exchanged their battle dress for Italian civilian clothing and then began their long trek southwards. “It took us ten weeks to reach the Allied lines, and three quarters of our journey lay through mountainous country”, he continued. “We walked at night finding our direction by the stars, and by day we slept mostly in the woods and barns. Ninety per cent of the people gave us food if we asked for it. Some were quite friendly. But others would not help us for fear of German reprisals on themselves and their families.”

Sergt. Lockett described how one day the Germans searched the farmhouse in which he and his friend had sought refuge. “We hid in a bread oven. They only bake twice a month in Italy, and we happened to get in when the oven was cold”. The Germans were in the house two hours, and they ordered the householder to cook them some spaghetti. When they asked if there any British prisoners in the building and the Italians said ‘No’ and they called them liars, the women began to cry.

“I could hear my heart beating” added Sergt. Lockett. The Germans must have been tipped off by the Fascists that we had been seen in the neighbourhood. On several occasions they narrowly missed being captured by German patrols, and they had to cross no man’s land before reaching the Allied front line positions, but once in friendly hands it was only four days before he was on his way home.

When Thomas Lockett got back to Penkridge he could only wear his physical training plimsoles. From the time that he escaped untiI reaching Allied lines he had covered six or seven hundred miles on foot. His feet were too sore for his boots. Whilst he had been in prison hospital he had met Trooper Barrie Anderson, a commando and the only son of Dr. Anderson, of Penkridge. Barrie Anderson later died. Despite all his experiences Thomas Lockett hoped to regain his fitness and stay in the paratroops.

Thomas Lockett was married to Olive who worked at the Rodbaston Farm Institute. Not only did she have to worry about the safety of her husband – three of her brothers were away in the forces. Driver George Webb, 29, was in the Territorials when war broke out. He was called up straight away and went abroad in November, 1941. By 1944 he had served in the Western Desert, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Palestine and was still abroad. Private John Webb went abroad in 1942 and served in North Africa and then in Italy where he was still stationed in 1944. A.C.1 Charles Webb was with the RAF in England. James Webb bad been in the army but had been invalided out and was doing ARP work in Stafford.

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